Christianity · Liturgy

The Holy Name of God, the Orders of the Church and the Golden Dawn

One of the things that I love about the Anglo-Catholic tradition is that, as Ezra Pound would say, “it all coheres”. For example, the four Orders of the church (or the three types of Holy Orders and the laity). These are the:

  • Laity (us regular folk)
  • Diaconate (deacons)
  • Presbyterate (priests)
  • Episcopate (bishops)

Things to note before we proceed: We are ALL part of the laity, even if we’re an archbishop. The origin of the word is from the Greek λαϊκός (laikos), “of the people”. Officially in some churches the laity are actually those who have been baptised. However, the point is all church folk are laity, even if they also have been ordained or consecrated into other orders. At my local church we occasionally have the pleasure of a diocesan Bishop, when not engaged in official duties, worshipping in the pews with us, as it is her home parish. In this capacity she is ‘of the people’.

Another point to note is that throughout much of the Anglican Church in Australia the liturgical role of the deacon is now performed by the liturgical assistant or lay pastoral minister. They may be licensed but they are not ordained.

The church’s roots in Judaism are useful to explain some of the symbolism of these orders. In the analysis to follow I am not suggesting the early church consciously organised like this or when the orders were instituted there was conscious recognition of the links I make here. Only that in drawing from a spiritual framework and tradition (Judasim) and being open to the inspiration of the Spirit results manifest that cohere. In any case, to quote a widely accepted authority on the early church, “The three-tiered system of one bishop in one city, with presbyters and deacons, was attained in the second century without controversy”. (Henry Chadwick, The Early Church, revised edition, 1993, p.51).

The Holy Name of God in Judaism is represented by the letters YHWH ( יהוה). Jewish and particularly Hermetic Qabalah does a lot of exegesis on these four letters, ascribing them to Four Worlds, the four Elemental principles, and the Sephrioth on the Tree of Life among other things. We can assign them to the four orders thus:

Letter of YHWH

Order

Meaning of Order

Yod | Y | י Episcopate (bishops) “overseer”
Heh | H | ה Presbyterate (priests) “elder”
Wau | W | ו Diaconate (deacons) “servant”,
Heh final | H | ה Laity (the people) “of the people”

Once we have done this much makes sense. The final Heh of YHWH in Hermetic Qabalah relates to the material universe and the element of earth, which is said to be comprised of the synthesis of the other three elements. It contains all within it, so YHW are said to be reflected in the final Heh. Similarly as mentioned already, the laity, contains all – bishops, priests and deacons and the baptised together as one. As we will see, just as the final Heh is the most important of the letters, allowing God’s creation to be manifest, so too is the laity the most important order of the church.

Ideally at each service or Eucharist all four orders would be present, the coming together of the entire church and the four letters of the Holy Name. This rarely happens and rarely happened either in the developing church where there were a fair number of presbyters with deacons and people aplenty but only one bishop per city. Thus developed the custom of comingling where a small piece of the host consecrated by the overseeing bishop was sent to all the churches under his charge. This was known as the fermentum (leaven) and was placed by the presbyter into the chalice and “commingled” with the blood of Christ. In this way the Episcopate was seen to be present. This custom is the origin of the practice of some modern priests who place a portion of the fraction into the wine at their own Eucharist, thus symbolically making present the Episcopate.

The episcopate is of course the order that holds, contains and transmits the apostolic succession. Without a bishop there can be no priests, no deacons and no laity can be served. They themselves hold authority and lineage of the church, functions easily attributed to the first letter of the Name, Yod. They function in some way as the head of the whole schema, much the way Yod is the head of the Holy Name.

Continuing to look at the orders from within the frame of the Holy Name we see the division between the first two orders (bishops and priests) and the second two (deacons and laity) reflects the division articulated in the Qabalah between YH and WH. The first two are primal, noumenal forces, the second two phenomenal. This division is why bishops and priests can consecrate the bread and wine, can stand in persona Christi, that is take on a noumenal blessing, and the other orders cannot.

Looking at the Eucharist further we see the episcopate as the instigating force, embodied in the local bishop, again something attributable to Yod of YHVH. The bishop transmits authority and licence to the ‘passive’ (under oath of obedience) priest in order to perform the sacramental duty of the church. Again we see how the Presbyterate relates to the passive and receptive first Heh of YHVH. It is the combination of roles, the Yod moving into the Heh that allows the priest to stand in persona Christi so the sacraments may be performed.

And here is where the Hermetic Qabalistic poetic redaction of the name of Jesus as YHShVH הושהי (historically spelt as ישוע‎) comes into its own. Yod of YHVH, the bishop, empowers and transmits blessing and authority  to Heh, the priest, so the bread and wine may become the body and blood of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. In the name YHShVH the Holy Spirit is symbolised by the central Shin, Sh. So we see YH coming together with Sh to consecrate the bread and wine to serve the deacons and the people, WH. It all coheres!

It seems likely to me that those Anglo-Catholic priest and bishop members of the historical Golden Dawn would have seen or felt a reflection of all this in the organisation and practice of sacred ceremonies of that Order. To wit:

Letter of YHWH

Order

Golden Dawn

Yod Episcopate (bishops) Chiefs
Heh Presbyterate (priests) Hierophant & Inner Order
Wau Diaconate (deacons) Officers
Heh final Laity (the people) Members

All folk, including chiefs are members. The officers serve in the operation of the sacramental rites headed by the Hierophant like the deacon does for the priest. No meeting can take place without the presence of one of the Chiefs, if only symbolically. There is a division between the Chiefs and the Hierophant (YH) and the Officers and the members (WH) – entry into the second Order where on encounters the Christian mysteries. ‘Nuff said 🙂

As mentioned before, the laity are the most important order of the church. At the conclusion of the Eucharist it is they, who containing with them all other orders, blessed by the presence of Christ’s body and blood take the blessings and mystery out into the real world beyond the church in the power of the spirit. Symbolically this is the presence of the second mode of hermetic redaction of the name of Jesus, YHVShH, with the Holy Spirit symbolised by the letter Sh placed next to the final Heh, the laity. This form of the name is known as a ‘grounding’ or ‘earthing’ form, spirit adjacent to earth, and this is apt here for the laity about to enter the world, remade in Christ. For it is the laity who make real the mystery of faith, it is they who will enable Christ to come again through themselves via their love and service. Thanks. 🙂

Christianity

Wonder Woman and Christian Truth

wonder-woman-header

A couple of days ago we saw the new Wonder Woman movie. I know without doing any internet search that there will be some Christian commentators out there warning of the dangers Wonder Woman and other stories based on ‘pagan’ pantheons pose to Christianity and civilization as a whole. Such is the world we live in. I mean, there are still folk out there insisting Harry Potter is evil and nasty and just bad form, when it has always been quite clear the books are the most popular Christian analogy since C.S. Lewis’ Narnia septet.

I would argue Wonder Woman is not promoting paganism at all. In thirty years of engaging with the Neo-Pagan community I have not met a single person who views their Gods like they are presented in the comic-books and movies. The movie is in fact doing a pretty decent job of extolling Christian values and the core Christian message.

While not dog’s balls obvious, like Harry Potter was from the first book, this is pretty clear. I am not sure how this occurred – if the writers are conscious Christians or not. I am resisting the temptation to right-mouse Google to find out. It may just be the messages from Wonder Woman are Christian because Christianity remains the dominant moral background in the west (?!?). I am not sure.

The core message of Wonder Woman is the triumph of love. The co-protagonist Steve Trevor sacrifices himself to save thousands and end the war out of the love he holds for people – broken, damaged and even evil people. This in turn prompts Wonder Woman, who in this movie is both god and human, to resist the temptation of the evil god Ares to help him destroy and enslave flawed and evil humanity, who so deserve their fate. Instead she is spurred to go beyond herself and her powers (she is already seemingly defeated) to an act of exultant love, conquering evil in the final battle.

So far so good – and so far so like so many Hollywood movies. And it is true there is nothing unique in Wonder Woman, neither in story, direction, acting or theme. Except the verity repeated several times and announced as a coda in the final battle:

‘It is not about deserve; it is about what you believe.’

In the movie we, humanity, do not deserve the help of Wonder Woman. She knows this clearly, but she believes in love and so she is there for us. A core Christian message laid bare, hidden slightly behind the context of ‘believing in’ something, in this case Wonder Woman’s belief in love.

Other Christian motifs abound. Charlie, one of the key people in the hand-picked crack team cannot do what he is there to do – because he is broken, damaged and traumatised by the war. Yet there is no question of not accepting him or keeping him, for all his flaws and failure. Love again.  And again for the broken human, as we are all broken. At the conclusion of the final battle, the day dawns and a solider, miraculously finding himself alive, falls to his knees as the sun rises. He is one of the ‘enemy’, spared and saved regardless.

To be clear the simple presentation of the verity above, where even though we do not deserve God’s love, it is there nonetheless, is not my favourite. It smacks of penal substitutionary atonement and valorises confessional approaches to Christianity above practice based approaches. Now of course in and by itself it is true (how can it not be?) but it can lead to some pretty wonky theology and ideas.

I remember picking up a copy of Perth based author Stan Deyo’s Cosmic Conspiracy when a teenager. After stories of aliens, UFOS and mind control worthy of Boy’s Own, it is revealed the aliens are all in league with Satan. Okaay. To save the reader before the ‘final day’, Stan helpfully included a little form at the back where we could sign our name stating we believed in Jesus as Lord. Simple as that! Thank the One for making it so easy. 🙂

Of course if we do really hold the truth of this verity deeply it will change us. We will then be moved towards practices like meditation, contemplation, communal worship, community work, alms and so forth – so we may let go of that which separates us from the One and strengthen that which fosters our true self’s love for the One and each other. So it is not that I am against belief based creedal statements – but they are only one part of the story.

As for Wonder Woman, this 2017 outing is the latest in a long list of revisions and resets for the super heroine since 1941. She has ebbed and flowed in as a ‘feminist’ icon (in this movie she is hardly feminist at all). However she endures, partly because we do need to have strong and divine feminine images in our world. I find it most interesting that Wonder Woman’s most novel ‘weapon’ is her Lariat, the Lasso of Truth. How wonderful a gift! Interestingly of course, and the subject for another blog, is the reality that the most truthful, the most powerful – through her complete obedience – feminine divine is the Theotokos. When we look at her story we truly see a Wonder Woman 🙂 Thanks.

Christianity · Liturgy · Theology

The One and the Many – every Sunday

My first serious girlfriend came from good Roman Catholic stock. Having tried (and failed) to be raised as a Christian child and finding nothing but lifeless platitudes in high school ‘prayer groups’ this was terribly exciting for me. At the first opportunity I went along to Holy Communion with her and watched with interest as she responded and genuflected and crossed and engaged with the liturgy. Afterwards I eagerly questioned her about the meaning of her responses and words. She looked at me blankly. Now when I say ‘blankly’, I do not mean that she did not know the meaning but she could not even reproduce the words she had spoken with such fluency half hour earlier.

Such is the way with some Sunday Christians.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that 🙂 We are after all both animal and communal. Rote reproduction and synching in with the group mind is natural for us. It is part of who we are. It is the ‘animal soul’ aspect of our beings. It is what keeps us alive every day and allows us to drive through peak hour traffic or shop in in a busy supermarket.

It can however be taken too far, as the Gospel According to Python shows.

As Buddhism and 80s pop music philosopher Howard Jones assert our regular self, the self that feels it is ‘an individual’ is really nothing more than a “jumbled mess of preconceived ideas”. This explains why we, as individuals can go to church and act like my girlfriend. It explains the definitely rote, unthinking responses in church, ‘Praise be to God’ and wot not. We easily fall into this. We easily fall into unconsciousness and it is the aim of depth spirituality to wake us up.

There is a wonderful story about Gautama Buddha teaching a group of students on a hot, sultry day when the flies were out. A fly kept trying to land on Gautama’s head and he would shoo it away and continue his preaching. After a little while he lifted his hand and shooed again. “Why Master”, asked a student “are you shooing the fly away? It has already left”. Gautama replied, “yes, but the first time I did it without thinking and so now I do it again with consciousness.”

Christianity aims to wake us up, to be conscious, to allow us access to the eternal verities and to serve the One through a radical and completely personal change of heart and life. It also insists on communal worship where we can easily fall into group and animal soul behaviour. And this is one of the greatest gifts of Sunday mornings.

When we enter group worship we literally exist between that tension of group-animal, automatic self and our individual, conscious engagement with the liturgy. We have to choose to be conscious; we have to choose to actively engage on the ‘inner’ levels with the prayers and the liturgy. And we have to continue to engage in communal responses and actions. We cannot be purely individual in church: we have to be both self and group. This is one of the main points of church. Of course we are helped in this movement between the automatically reacting group-mind and conscious choice by the presence of Christ who chose to move beyond his instincts of fear self-preservation towards a cruel and tortuous death.

This tension between group-reaction and individual-choice is a microcosm of the spiritual life. It is a condensed experience of the struggles to move from being the ‘natural man’ as St Paul (and the GD) puts it to being ‘spiritual’ (or ‘more than human’ as the GD puts it).

So every Sunday morning we are given a gift of tension that surmises and reproduces our life-long task. As we engage with that tension we are empowered and learn to participate in the greater tension of our spiritual life. It is a gift of the path of theosis, participation in God through changing ourselves towards perfection, as Christ was perfect, yet remaining always broken and imperfect.

And yet there is more, as there always is 🙂

christian art, angels worshipping chaliceIn Christian theology the worship of the One is eternal and continuing, beyond temporality, beyond our experience of time. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. The angels continually sing ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ before the One. This occurs in Kairos, a time beyond temporality (Kronos) a time where we can assert every day, at every moment, that THIS is day Christ was born, died and was resurrected. (We see this understanding also in Buddhist myths of Gautama’s birth, enlightenment and death occurring on the same day of the year).

Our physical church services move us from Kronos to Kairos and we enter the continual worship, as the liturgy says; “with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven”. Now this is mind bogglingly awesome if we stop to think about it. We participate in the transcendent and the physical liturgy as one. In the Orthodox traditions the worshippers represent the Cherubim. We worship side by side with the angels. Thus our communal worship in church is more than we can see, and more, much more significant than we can imagine.

In most Orthodox and esoteric Christian theology human beings are gifted with qualities the angels do not have, most often described as reason. Therefore when we enter church and worship as and side by side with the angels, not just the people next to us who rote-read the lines, we are bringing to the worship of the One something unique and wonderful. We – every one of us, imperfect and broken – are adding to the eternal, uncreated unfolding of the fullness of the One. We are engaging in acts that hasten the Kingdom when all shall be consumed and become infinite and holy, when each individual being is perfectly united with the One, yet still existing to worship the One, expressed by the holy name that is One and Many – ELOHIM.

🙂 Every. Sunday. Morning. 🙂